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The Guardian explained why it published this AP photo by Ng Han Guan on its front page. (Credit: Guardian/AP)

A “small handful” of readers complained about the Guardian‘s decision to publish a front-page photo of an emotional family member reacting to the news that the Malaysian authorities’ statement that the missing Malaysian 370 flight crashed in the ocean, Guardian corrections column co-editor Barbara Harper reported April 6.

The photo showed “the head and shoulders of a man who was clearly in distress, his hand across his eyes,” and was published both online and on the front page of the print edition, she wrote.

Harper explained why the paper chose to publish the “strong image,” which she said was representative of the “acute plight of the relatives” of the passengers.

According to Harper, two important considerations were that

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  1. “The man’s face was largely hidden by his hand”
  2. The man was in public at a Beijing hotel briefing, which according to the Press Complaints Commission’s code wouldn’t imply he would have privacy.

On the other hand, Harper noted that a Guardian reporter from Beijing, Tania Branigan, “would have preferred the use of another picture” because the man had to walk by photographers to leave the hotel, therefore he couldn’t avoid press coverage, if he had wanted privacy.

Harper raised one crucial point in her discussion of the decision to publish the photo — if the nationality of the passengers and their families came into play.

“The question is often asked whether a picture such as this would have been used on the front page if the relatives had been predominantly British,” she wrote. “The answer, according to our picture desk, is yes.”

But, Harper noted, “Of course, now that the Guardian is a global operation, we have to be aware that our choices will be seen and read by people all over the world.”

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Why the Guardian published photo of grief-stricken MH370 family member

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